WA coastal locals wrap vital supermarket in plastic, sandbag homes as cyclone bears down

Residents of the West Australian coastal tourist region of Shark Bay have raced to secure boats, sandbag homes and safeguard the local IGA as a tropical cyclone accelerates towards them.

The local State Emergency Service had been working for days and more SES volunteers had poured into town from other areas ahead of Cyclone Seroja, Shark Bay resident Leon Deschamps said.

The local IGA.

“Volunteers have been making a Great Wall of China of sandbags for our main supply of food, the supermarket,” he said.

“And it’s tourism season so thousands more are in the community and haven’t left.

“Michael, the owner at the kayak place, for the first time in 20 years has been sandbagging, not to stop the water coming in, but to stop the building floating away. The kayaks are lashed together in one giant mass as high as he can physically drag them.”

Boat owners had been playing “mooring Bingo” with everyone moving to the strongest mooring they could find, he said.

Rough water off the tourist attraction of Monkey Mia.

“The Aristocat, the catamaran they use for the dolphin cruises, has moved on to the government Fisheries mooring to be as safe as possible, because that’s the strongest one in town and they aren’t using it at the moment,” he said.

“That means smaller boats can use the catamaran’s mooring.

“Everyone in town has done the same thing. Smaller boats going on bigger moorings, people allowing others on to theirs.

“We have the Shark Ark, a 50-foot ketch and we spent the last little while putting up a new mooring, putting giant shipping lines on 6-inch-thick rope with 10mm chain on to concrete so that’s pretty much all we can do.”

Water approaches the kayak rental on the beach at Monkey Mia.

Oddly, residents have even seen storms of butterflies come through town, as though racing to get out of the cyclone’s path.

The majority of the community is placed either in the tiny town centre of Denham, with one main beachside drag and around 30 residential streets, or the tourism resort, visitor centre and beach attraction of Monkey Mia, a 20-minute drive away on the other side of the peninsula.

The town was also full of tourists staying, many staying at the resort or in campsites in the national park, with not everyone able to leave over the past couple of days. Thousands of Easter holidaymakers raced to exit the north coast and return to Perth ahead of the cyclone, which has two tropical lows on its tail.

The whole of Shark Bay is on Red Alert, with potential serious flooding predicted, and an evacuation centre in Denham was one of three set up in the state, the other two in Carnarvon and Port Denison, a half-hour drive from the major coastal city of Geraldton.

Tourist boardwalk submerged at Monkey Mia.

Mr Deschamps said the community seemed much better prepared, given the utility provided by social media, than it had been for the 1988 Cyclone Herbie, which had been the last time the town had seen serious flooding that destroyed homes and left a damage bill in the tens of millions.

That time, when he was just a young boy, his home in the one-street town centre of Denham, a short drive from the Monkey Mia tourist destination, had seen water up to, but not breaching, its front door. That had been a surge of about a metre and he said worse was predicted for Sunday evening.

“We have a tenant in our house … with his gumboots by his bed,” he said.

“And we are in Monkey Mia in the staff accommodation for the resort, where my partner works.”

He said that Herbie had caused carnage when he was a child, sweeping away all the food in the supermarket.

Kayaks close to flood zone.

“This time they have black plastic-wrapped the entire supermarket,” he said.

“The SES guys … are parked outside our front door. We feel pretty safe. We are a resilient community.”

People in town, however, were worried about their neighbours in Geraldton having to catch a bus half an hour out of town to reach an evacuation centre, which might still not be far enough to escape danger.

“It’s pretty crazy,” he said. “It’s just really unpredictable.”

SES vehicles parked in town.

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